On Friday, CBS announced it will unveil the first all-female sports talk show, set to debut in September. The Big Lead broke the news, citing six names associated with the project, including the well-known Lesley Visser, ex-ESPN anchor Dana Jacobson, and beloved sideline reporter Jenny Dell. The weekly show apparently will also be produced and directed by women.
My initial reaction upon seeing the headline was “great,” but my joy was short-lived after digesting this unfortunate sequence of words: “Sources say it will be something akin to The View meets Pardon the Interruption.”
First, we don’t need to conduct a focus group to confirm that the vast majority of sports fans — be they male or female, highbrow hipsters or gameday warriors with helmets painted around their nipples — have no interest whatsoever in a sports talk show ever meeting The View. If that’s the entire concept of the show — beyond, you know, gender — it’s an incredibly presumptuous leap by the Tiffany Network’s suits that has all the potential in the world to backfire.
Why isn’t CBS recognizing the fine work of women broadcasters by bringing them into their already existing programming organically? Doesn’t it make more sense to promote diversity by putting qualified female journalists in high-visibility roles that the entirety of your viewing audience will actually watch?
Writer Sarah Kogod echoed similar sentiments:
Instead, what we have here is a gimmick by CBS that purports to fill a void while the network’s principal sports programming will continue to exist as it has for years. Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz perhaps summed it up best by translating what CBS is really saying with this move:
“Put all the women over there where they can talk among themselves. Now, excuse us while the big boys on the big broadcasts talk all the way over here. Oh, no, don’t come over here, ladies. This is the big-boy table.”
David Berson, President of CBS Sports, clearly believes he and his colleagues are on the cutting edge of diversity practice:
“We’re really excited and proud to be launching the first ever all-female sports talk show. We have been discussing and developing the show for well over a year. Internally and externally, there’s been universal enthusiasm and across-the-board support.”
In reality, the creation of an all-female sports talk show merely allows CBS executives to pat themselves on the back while they soak in a few glowing tweets of praise, supposedly in the name of advancing women’s place at the table but without acknowledging it’s an entirely different table that they’re peddling to viewers.
It’s win-win at the top of the chain that comes with little change, in an industry that has long trended toward attention-grab over quality.
Remember when ESPN added Rush freakin’ Limbaugh, of all people, to the network’s NFL Countdown panel, presumably because he filled the loud, husky male requirement? That was as preposterous an idea as Meet the Press one day announcing they’ve added Jumbo Elliott to its team of shrewd talking heads. To the surprise of no one, the strange Limbaugh experiment abruptly ended when he made an incredibly stupid comment about black quarterbacks, using Donovan McNabb as his muse.
I know what you’re thinking. “Wait, it just dawned on me that a major American television network actually once added a pill-popping, racist ideologue to one its highly-rated broadcasts, yet even now, we still don’t see qualified women integrated into mainstream sports programming.” And you would be right. It’s abject failure on the part of TV executives that female broadcasters are almost exclusively relegated to largely inconsequential sideline reporting, studio host roles, or those useless 30-second game dispatches we see on Countdown.
It’s window dressing at its worst.
Look, we can all root for this new show to be successful (it won’t be) because of what the show might be able to do for the careers of its on-air and behind-the-scenes talent — assuming they stay far way from Twitter when the show broadcasts. If you’ve ever seen Erin Andrews’ mentions, or really any female in a similar role, you know what I’m talking about. Of course, anyone CBS does bring aboard is no doubt already familiar with discrimination and misogyny in what has historically been an all-boys club.
Instead of evolving like the rest of the sports world continues to do — like the Spurs hiring Becky Hammon as the NBA’s first full-time female assistant coach just last week — the role of females in sports broadcasting remains mostly a trivial add-on that’s stuck in neutral.
CBS appears to believe they’re doing something revolutionary here, and I’m sure the idea was birthed through good intentions, but the concept of a sports “tea party” cast off to the side only accentuates the existing problem. Yes, a handful will have their own table now, but is it one anyone wants to sit at?